Praise for Betrayal
“One of the books that will define the month of November is Betrayal, the new end-of-Trump-era tome by ABC's Jonathan Karl. Betrayal convincingly makes the case that the period between Election Day and Inauguration Day was even more precarious than we knew at the time. Karl isn't a progressive pundit or a hyperbolic columnist. He is one of the most-respected correspondents in D.C. He and so many others are saying: America was on the precipice of a constitutional crisis. And we could wind up back there again soon.”—Brian Stelter, CNN's Reliable Sources newsletter
“Newly revelatory in a surprising way.”—Booklist (starred review)
“In the follow-up to Front Row at the Trump Show, the ABC News political correspondent delivers fresh news on the last months of the Trump presidency.”—Kirkus (starred review)
“ABC’s man in Washington delivers a second riveting and horrifying read about how close America came to disaster.”—The Guardian
“As a long-time TV reporter, ABC News chief Washington correspondent Jonathan Karl brings an eye for life as presented on screen that is acutely appropriate for the Trump saga. That alone might justify widening our Trump lit shelf, but Karl also adds substantially to the record of this parlous period—especially in the chaos of its final months.... On substance, and on the most important subject in Betrayal, Karl shows no hesitance or equivocation. Karl sees Trump as a past, present, and future threat to the orderly process of American politics and the constitutional separation of powers far beyond that posed by past presidents (or would-be presidents).... Enough of this material is new, or renewed in Karl's retelling, that it can all be compelling to read once again—even for those who have read more Trump books than they can count on their fingers ('We few, we happy few, we band of brothers...').”—NPR
“A good corrective to the opportunistic rewriting of what happened between the election and Jan. 6.”—The Washington Post
“Jonathan Karl’s Betrayal unearths new details about Trump’s attack on democracy.”—LA Times
“Documents the historic presidential election, unprecedented claims of fraud, the January insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and the stirrings of the novel COVID-19 virus that marked the final days of former President Donald Trump's presidency. Karl, chief Washington correspondent for ABC News, is also the author of the New York Times bestseller Front Row at the Trump Show, published in 2020. The veteran journalist has indeed had a front row seat throughout the Trump administration. Choice accounts have made their way into Betrayal."—USA Today
“One of the most influential political media figures in the news business. As co-anchor of This Week, Karl is at the helm of one of the most influential Sunday political talk shows in the country. As a chief political correspondent for ABC News, Karl continues to provide crucial reporting, and his years of experience as a tough questioner on the White House beat give him journalistic cred that puts him near the top of the pack. Karl’s influence is bolstered by his unrivaled relationships. There may be no reporter better connected with both sides of the political aisle than Karl. That allows him to keep a step ahead of the competition and makes him a coveted guest on the cable networks to discuss his scoops.” —Mediaite
Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show384
Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show384
An NPR Book of the Day
Picking up where the New York Times bestselling Front Row at the Trump Show left off, this is the explosive look at the aftermath of the election—and the events that followed Donald Trump’s leaving the White House all the way to January 6—from ABC News' chief Washington correspondent.
Nobody is in a better position to tell the story of the shocking final chapter of the Trump show than Jonathan Karl. As the reporter who has known Donald Trump longer than any other White House correspondent, Karl told the story of Trump’s rise in the New York Times bestseller Front Row at the Trump Show. Now he tells the story of Trump’s downfall, complete with riveting behind-the-scenes accounts of some of the darkest days in the history of the American presidency and packed with original reporting and on-the-record interviews with central figures in this drama who are telling their stories for the first time.
This is a definitive account of what was really going on during the final weeks and months of the Trump presidency and what it means for the future of the Republican Party, by a reporter who was there for it all. He has been taunted, praised, and vilified by Donald Trump, and now Jonathan Karl finds himself in a singular position to deliver the truth.
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Praise for Betrayal
In the follow-up to Front Row at the Trump Show, the ABC News political correspondent delivers fresh news on the last months of the Trump presidency.
On Jan. 6, 2021, Karl called John Kelly and asked whether Trump, having lost the election, would leave office when his term expired. Kelly answered, “Oh, he’ll leave. And if he refuses to leave, there are people who will escort him out.” What emerges in these pages is that while quiet patriots coaxed Trump to acquiesce, there were also plenty of enablers who encouraged him to stay, from “the crazies” in Rudy Giuliani’s retinue to the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol. Karl breaks plenty of news. For example, while it’s true that Trump was the rare president who didn’t attend his successor’s inauguration, it’s because Mitch McConnell specifically disinvited him. Trump caught wind beforehand and, in his last tweet, announced that he would not be attending of his own will, which earned him a permanent suspension from Twitter on the grounds that the tweet “was being interpreted by his supporters as a message that he still didn’t consider Biden’s victory legitimate.” Furthermore, although no one will go on record confirming it, members of the Cabinet almost certainly discussed how to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office (Trump, of course, vigorously denies it). William Barr, the attorney general who seemed to be Trump’s chief legal enabler, emerges as someone who, at the end of his time in the job, resisted Trump; the same is true of Mark Milley and the heads of the armed services, who Trump assumed would back his power grab. In addition, Trump was itching for a war with Iran as yet another excuse to stay in power. “You really can’t make it up,” the author remarks—an irony, considering the cloud-cuckooland the Trump administration inhabited.
Karl’s message is clear: Trump was bad news, but it could have been much worse.
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Read an Excerpt
One of the first calls I made as I watched the rioters move toward the Capitol building on January 6, 2021, was to John Kelly, the retired four‑star Marine general who previ‑
ously had served as President Trump’s first chief of staff. More than a year before the 2020 election, as I was finishing Front Row at the Trump Show, I had asked Kelly what would happen if Trump lost the election and refused to concede. Back then the question was a hypo‑ thetical one, but it was one I had been thinking about for a long time. What if Trump tried to stay in the White House? How would this all end?
“Oh, he’ll leave,” Kelly told me back then. “And if he refuses to leave, there are people who will escort him out.”
As chief of staff, Kelly had seen firsthand how Trump operates and he knew how the White House really functions. Clearly he had thought about this before and had played out the scenario in his mind.
“If he tried to chain himself to the Resolute,” Kelly told me, refer‑ ring to the enormous desk in the Oval Office, “they would simply cut the chains and carry him out.”
Kelly has a deep and commanding voice befitting a retired four‑ star Marine general. He said these words with authority, as if he was speaking an immutable truth that needed no further discussion. To Kelly it wasn’t complicated. If Trump loses, he’ll be gone at noon on January 20, 2021. That’s what the Constitution dictates. It’s as simple as that. I didn’t ask any more questions, but I still had a few. Who would escort him out? Who would cut the chains? Who were “they”? Would it be the Secret Service? Would it be the Marine who stands sentry at the entrance to the West Wing? The image Kelly described was a crazy one: a defeated president getting dragged from the White House while he refuses to admit defeat. Since John Adams lost reelec‑ tion to Thomas Jefferson in 1800, every defeated president has ac‑ cepted the results and voluntarily left office. The scenario described by John Kelly seemed too disturbing—and too absurd—to consider any further. I tried not to think about it again.
By January 6, the question was no longer hypothetical. Trump wasn’t due to leave the White House for two more weeks, but for nearly two months he had been denying the results of the election. And now his supporters were storming the Capitol and trying to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory.
I broke off from ABC’s live coverage of the terrifying scene un‑ folding on Capitol Hill, and I called Kelly.
“This isn’t America,” he told me.
Like any rational person in America, he was angry about what was happening. And he was clear that the man he had served as chief of staff was to blame.
“If he was a real man, he would go down to the Capitol and tell them to stop,” he said, telling me that it was time for the Trump cabinet to step in and save the country by declaring Trump mentally unfit and removing him from office.
“If I was still there, I would call the cabinet and start talking about the Twenty‑Fifth Amendment.”
Invoking the Twenty‑Fifth Amendment and getting a majority of the cabinet to agree the president is unfit for office is the equivalent of cutting the chains and forcibly escorting the president from the Oval Office. There would be more talk of the Twenty‑Fifth Amend‑ ment that night and over the coming days, but the first mention of it I had heard on January 6 was from Donald Trump’s former chief of staff, while the rioters were still inside the Capitol building.
Kelly’s views were shared by many who had supported and served Trump, and by more than a few who were still serving in positions of authority in his administration. I spoke to people close to Trump during his final days and weeks in office who told me they thought Trump was mentally unstable—that he had literally gone mad.
Members of his cabinet began talking about invoking the Twenty‑ Fifth Amendment during the evening of January 6. They may not acknowledge this fact publicly while Trump is still a political force, but they were. Lawyers were asked to quietly look into whether the Twenty‑Fifth Amendment made it possible for the cabinet to remove Trump from office under the current circumstances and whether such an action would survive legal challenge. When the Twenty‑Fifth Amendment option was deemed unworkable—there were several un‑ answered questions, including whether all the acting secretaries in Trump’s cabinet would have a vote—a couple of cabinet secretaries resigned. Others made a pact among themselves to keep the president they served from doing more damage to the country.
Even as I wrote this book, attempts to whitewash the history of Trump’s final days in office had begun. There are those who say Trump didn’t really want his supporters to storm the Capitol building or vio‑ lently disrupt the certification of the election results. Although, as you will see later in this book, Trump himself made it clear to me that he looks back on January 6 fondly and believes that if events just had played out a little differently, he’d still be president. There are also those who say the violence that day has been exaggerated, that there was no real threat to our democracy, that it was just a protest that got a little out of hand. That’s a lie. January 6 was an attempt to overturn a presidential election; it was an assault on democracy itself.
I knew that on January 6. We all did. But the more I learned about the events leading up to the day, the more disturbing the story be‑ came. Over the course of my research and reporting for this book, I spoke to many of Donald Trump’s top advisors and closest confi‑ dants, and several members of his cabinet. Many of those conversa‑ tions came in the days before and during January 6. Others spoke to me after it was all over.
The more I learned, the more I became convinced that as horrific as January 6 seemed as the events unfolded, our nation was far more imperiled than most of us realized at the time. It’s something of a miracle that nothing worse happened between the time Donald Trump lost the election in November and when he left office in Janu‑ ary. You will read in these pages that America was dangerously close to being led into a foreign war at least twice after the election by a president who was also flirting with a war at home.
The seeds of our potential peril were sown in early 2020. As a deadly new virus was spreading across Asia, Donald Trump embarked on two campaigns. The first was a reelection campaign designed to win by dividing the country, and, if that failed, to undermine the results. The second campaign, largely invisible to the public, was a campaign to root out disloyalists in the federal government, to seek out and remove anyone in the Trump administration deemed insufficiently loyal to Donald Trump. If there had been anyone around Trump who stopped him from acting on his most destructive tendencies during the first three years of his presidency, they were either purged or side‑ lined by the end. By January 2021, hardly anyone was left to challenge him, to tell him no.
One of the striking things about January 6 is how many of the most senior members of the Trump administration were missing in action as the Capitol was ransacked and the president failed to do anything to stop it. As things went so desperately wrong, most of the people left in the Trump administration who had the standing to confront Trump were running in the other direction. One cabinet secretary was in Qatar. Another was in Khartoum on his way to Is‑ rael. The national security advisor was in Florida. Trump son‑in‑law and senior advisor Jared Kushner was on a government charter flight returning from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. There is no evidence any of those people even bothered to speak to the president by phone on January 6 or urged him to condemn the rioters. Most of them didn’t even bring it up to him in the days after the attack. They were either afraid to confront the president they served or convinced it wouldn’t do any good if they tried.
My first book on the Trump presidency, written before the disas‑ trous events of 2020, explored the dilemma facing a journalist report‑ ing on a president who had declared war on journalism, calling real news fake and a free press the enemy of the people. Donald Trump branded reporters and mainstream news organizations as the op‑ position party. He did that to undermine our credibility, to make it possible for him to dismiss negative stories as nothing more than attacks from his political opponents. I wrote in my first book that reporters sometimes played right into the trap set by Trump:
. . . all too often reporters and news organizations have aided and abetted the effort to undermine the free press by openly displaying how much they detest this president—his policies, his blatant disregard for the truth, or his vilification of the press—and behaving like anti‑ Trump partisans rather than journalists striving for fair‑ ness and objectivity. We are not the opposition party, but that is the way some of us have acted . . .
Even through the events of 2020—the reckless and dishonest han‑ dling of the pandemic, the relentless politicization of everything at the White House, the shameful and destructive lies that followed the election defeat—I tried to treat Trump fairly. I have never wavered from my belief that journalists are not the opposition party and should not act like we are. But the first obligation of a journalist is to pursue truth and accuracy. And the simple truth about the last year of the Trump presidency is that his lies turned deadly and shook the foundations of our democracy. That’s the truth. And if that makes me sound like a member of the opposition party, so be it.
The darkness of this time is not diminished by acknowledging that, in 2020, we also saw the two most significant accomplishments of the Trump presidency: the development of a COVID vaccine on a timeline few thought possible, and the signing of an agreement that established diplomatic relations between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors. Trump didn’t develop the vaccine himself, obviously, and the Abraham Accords didn’t bring peace to the Middle East, but these were real accomplishments made all the more remarkable given the chaos swirling around and through the Trump White House dur‑ ing this time. Trump himself would have received more credit for these feats if he wasn’t also torching everything else around him.
History, rightfully, will focus on how Donald Trump brought American democracy to the brink of destruction. The riot on January 6 was the visual manifestation of this, but it was just one element of the disaster. And the threat did not end when the rioters were re‑ moved or even when Donald Trump walked out of the White House on January 20, 2021—with no need for an escort—for the last time.
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